Thousands of parents are being prevented from having close involvement in their babies’ neonatal care due to a widespread lack of support services for families, according to our latest report.
1 in 8 babies born in the UK requires specialist hospital care. However the report, Families kept apart: barriers to parents’ involvement in their baby's hospital care, shows huge variation and frequent gaps in the provision of services across England, such as a lack of overnight accommodation, kitchen space, and financial support.
Only five out of 29 neonatal intensive care units meet national standards for the provision of overnight accommodation for parents. More than one in seven (15 out of 99) neonatal units are unable to provide any, or only provide very limited, facilities or financial support for families.
By contrast, all hospital children’s departments have some level of accommodation for parents.
“To give premature and sick babies the best possible chance of good long-term health, parents must be able to provide daily hands-on care. But many families simply cannot afford to do that”, says Caroline Davey, chief executive of Bliss.
“In many cases, the lack of the right facilities and financial support is keeping parents from being with their children when they need them the most. Government and the NHS must urgently address these deficits, and Bliss’ report lists concrete proposals that should be implemented immediately.”
Experts are clear that early, hands-on parental involvement improves bonding and long-term outcomes for both babies and families, and reduces the length of the baby’s stay in hospital.4 5 6 7 8 For parents whose baby sadly dies, good support services allow them to spend as much time as they can with their baby and give parents a safe, supportive environment to grieve.
However, over 40 per cent of neonatal units lack the basic kitchen facilities that allow parents to stay with their babies without having to leave the ward to eat, and more than a third of hospitals offer parents no support whatsoever with meal costs.
In addition, parking can cost as much as £72 a day, despite repeated government guidance that free or reduced parking should be available to anyone visiting critically ill or long-stay patients.
The report lists 14 recommendations, including that units should adopt the Bliss Baby Charter, make immediate plans to combat the shortage of accommodation, and ensure their future plans are in line with the Department of Health’s Toolkit for High-Quality Neonatal Services. They should also provide more inclusive financial help and improve communication, including ensuring they have a dedicated family support lead.